Getting What You Deserve for Your Art

Last night I got together with Jim and Loren for some chow at Jim's place. SY made a nice spread of basil pasta, olives, and some type of pastrami. The pastrami was spicy, but good. I ate a lot of it and listened to Loren tell stories about his life as a pugilist and training boxers in Japan.

"I looked at Freddy, and I was like, "he's not listening to us." I don't know. Maybe, he just couldn't do what we were asking."

"What were you telling him to do?" Jim asked.

"Oh, well, you know, "Move forward and be more agressive!" "

We all laugh.

"Yeah," Loren smiles. "Maybe, he just couldn't do it."

"Sometimes it's hard to get in there," Jim said. "You just can't do what you need too."

"Yeah," I agreed. "He could have also been afraid."

"Yeah," Loren shook his head. "I don't know."

After a couple stories, I headed home in a taxi. I think the cabbie overcharged me. He must have amped the meter, because by the time I got home, I was already at 18,000 won (about 18 dollars).

I didn't say anything though. I just paid the guy, and walked up to my apartment. I was so tired. It was like I had done the 9 rounds Loren talked about. I just got home, and slumped into my chair. I checked my e-mails, and saw one from a colleague. It wasn't something I wanted to think about. I decided to call Jim to chat about our editing for the day.

"I think the manuscript has a nice beginning now," I said.

"I still need two more days from you."

"Why don't you go through and see what you come up with. I have some other work to do for the rest of the week. Maybe, we can get together next weekend."

"Yeah," he said. "I'll come to you. We can lay it out and see what we have."

"Okay," I said.

"I just want to say how much I appreciate what you did for me."

"No problem."

"It really means a lot."

We say our goodbye's, and it's just me and the cold, Seoul night again. I think about how I asked a friend to edit a manuscript for me. I had offered $150. The guy wanted $1000. I was flabbergasted.

"What?" I had quesitoned.

"Well, typically, this sort of thing runs about a thousand dollars. I could do 3 pages an hour at $25. But that is as low as I can go. That would make it $700."

"No," I said. "Too expensive."

It surprises me the way we will treat strangers as opposed to our friends. Just a day earlier, the same colleague edited close to 40 pages of student work for no pay at all. I had been a friend, and suggested not putting in so much effort into something that one was not being paid for. "Think about equal exchange," I said.

I guess the guy took that to mean with me, and based his calculations on a professional edit someone might do at those rob-and-kill editing services. I don't really know. It just surprises me. You give people an idea of "equal exchange", and they really run with it, but not necessarily with an understanding of what it means. For example, if I had a chicken and you had a goat. And we wanted to make a trade. You might say the goat was more valuable, so you deserved more. But - and there is a big but - if I had offered you a chicken that produced eggs, and the promise of other things on the side, and the benefit of working with someone on your first goat trade that was a big chicken dealer - you might reconsider the trade because equal exchange is effected by more than just a monetary value.

Some people get this very well. Some have to burn their own open doors a few times before they see it. I know I have been in the same position in the past. I remember a shaman once told me to get equal exchange for my writing, and I ran with it, thinking that by being obstinate on a manuscript, I would get what I want. But all I ended up with was the lack of an agent to represent me, and people probably thinking I was money hungry.

It's interesting the lessons you learn about equal exchange. It's a lot like getting knocked down, or maybe knowing when to ask for it. At least that's how Loren explained taking on a title bout.

"As a trainer, you don't want your fighter to go after a title bout when they aren't ready. They'll just get knocked down, and lose the momentum and confidence that you built to make them a contender."

I think the same idea applies to equal exchange. If you're going to ask someone for a grand to do anything, you might want to start with something realistic. Then you can build your way to that title purse.

So for all you writers, editors, filmmakers, painters, and poets who want a million bucks for your first job, get a reality check and ask for something reasonable. Then you can build your way to being a contender.

Of course, everything has exceptions. You can hold out for something special, if you're doing something special.

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